A strain is a stretched or torn muscle or tendon. Tendons are tissues that connect muscle to bone. Twisting or pulling these tissues can cause a strain. Strains can happen suddenly or develop over time. Back and hamstring muscle strains are common. Many people get strains playing sports. Symptoms include pain, muscle spasms, swelling and trouble moving the muscle.
At first, treatment of both sprains and strains usually involves resting the injured area, icing it, wearing a bandage or device that compresses the area, and medicines. Later treatment might include exercise and physical therapy.
A strain occurs when the muscle tendon unit is stretched or torn. The most common reason is the overuse and stretching of the muscle.
The damage may occur in three areas:
- The muscle itself may tear.
- The area where the muscle and tendon blend can tear.
- The tendon may tear partially or completely (rupture).
Sprains and Strains Causes
Sprains and strains occur when the body is put under stress. In these situations, muscles and joints are forced to perform movements for which they are not prepared or designed to perform. An injury can occur from a single stressful incident, or it may gradually arise after many repetitions of a motion.
The first symptom of a sprain or strain injury is pain. Other symptoms, such as swelling and spasm, can take time (from minutes to hours) to develop.
- Pain is always a symptom that indicates that there is something wrong with the body. It is the message to the brain that warns that a muscle or joint should be protected from further harm. In work, exercise, or sport, the pain may come on after a specific incident or it may gradually progress after many repetitions of a motion.
- Swelling almost always occurs with injury, but it may take from minutes to hours to be noticed. Any time fibers of a ligament, muscle, or tendon are damaged, some bleeding occurs. The bleeding (such as bruising on the surface of the skin) may take time to be noticed.
- Because of pain and swelling, the body starts to favor the injured part. This may cause the muscles that surround the injured area to go into spasm. Hard knots of muscle might be felt near the site of the injury.
- The combination of pain, swelling, and spasm causes the body to further protect the injured part, which results in difficulty with use. Limping is a good example of the body trying to protect an injured leg.
Common Types of Strains
Ankle SprainsThe ankle is one of the most common injuries in professional and recreational sports and activities. Most ankle sprains happen when the foot abruptly turns inward (inversion) or outward (eversion) as an athletes runs, turns, falls, or lands after a jump. One or more of the lateral ligaments are injured.
Wrist SprainsWrists are often sprained after a fall in which the athlete lands on an outstretched hand.
Initial treatment for sprains and strains should occur as soon as possible. Remember RICE!
- Rest the injured part. Pain is the body's signal to not move an injury.
- Ice the injury. This will limit the swelling and help with the spasm.
- Compress the injured area. This again, limits the swelling. Be careful not to apply a wrap so tightly that it might act as a tourniquet and cut off the blood supply.
- Elevate the injured part. This lets gravity help reduce the swelling by allowing fluid and blood to drain downhill to the heart.
Strains are categorized in a similar manner to sprains:
- Grade I Strain: This is a mild strain and only some muscle fibers have been damaged. Healing occurs within two to three weeks.
- Grade II Strain: This is a moderate strain with more extensive damage to muscle fibers, but the muscle is not completely ruptured. Healing occurs within three to six weeks.
- Grade III Strain: This is a severe injury with a complete rupture of a muscle. This typically requires a surgical repair of the muscle; the healing period can be up to three months.
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